Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Issues for Kansas City

This will probably be my last post here until I return from Kansas City. There are two major issues that will come to a head at this next meeting of the Libertarian National Committee (LNC). I am praying they handle them both wisely.

There is growing tension between staff and the LNC which has to be resolved. The Executive Committee’s (EC) vote to stop spending money on most operations until the database is fixed, still in effect, is definitely the flashpoint.

This has already been picked to death in the LP blogosphere. The EC vote can certainly be understood as an act of desperate folks at the end of their rope. Many LNC members fully agree with various state chairs and database volunteers that not having this database working a year after installation is unconscionable, and they don’t know what else to do. When you look at it that way, one can develop some sympathy for their position. They aren’t the only ones who feel like banging their head against the wall whenever they hear the phrase “Raiser’s Edge.”

Still, I said at the time that it was the most boneheaded thing I have ever seen the LNC do this term, and now the results are coming in. Like any sane self-respecting employee, many of the staff took it as an insult. I imagine it’s hard to keep your morale up when you think your board of directors has gone insane and is taking it out on you.

Staff has to be very careful in their response to keep this from escalating into an all out battle to which, as my sweetie likes to intone, sadly there can be but one outcome. If they turn this into a fight, they’ll just get themselves fired.

And for good reason. You can’t have a staff that thinks they are the ones running the party. There’s a chain of command that starts with the membership electing a national committee. Staff is at the bottom of this chain of command.

There’s a fine line between frank communication and dictating terms. The LNC definitely needs honest feedback about the consequences of their decisions, no doubt. Unfortunately, although they may be the most affected, staff are the very last people in the party who have the ability to tell the LNC how to run their business.

Our current staff is so new that they have no reason to recall the last time we let staff get away with thinking they were the bosses. That bit of institutional memory however is still a very sore spot with the LNC. Staff feedback must be frank, yet words must be carefully chosen to avoid raising this specter in the minds of the board members.

Both sides must use this meeting as an opportunity to seek understanding, request and grant forgiveness, and heal tensions. If either side instead chooses the path of escalating conflict, we’ll probably be looking for a whole new staff next Monday, and then where will we be?

The other bullet to be dodged is the financial condition of the party. We are basically out of money. It’s not dire yet, but it can be soon if we don’t get off this path. Expenses and income are both significantly under budget for the first half of 2005. The bottom line is that we’re behind about $56,000 so far this year, with few resources left to cover any future losses.

I have yet to develop a real theory of why this is happening, since only anecdotal feedback is available. Still, the LNC needs to consider the possibility that one reason fundraising is down and membership renewals are struggling is because the membership is losing confidence in the LNC itself. Here in NC I find I frequently have to coax members into renewing over their objections to the LNC’s secret ballot to raise dues and washing their hands of ideological oversight.

The current website-driven membership drive and other recruitment activities are direct casualties of the EC’s vote to suspend operations until the database is up to snuff. If you don’t allow any money to be spent on outreach, you certainly can’t blame anyone else for declining membership numbers. If you make fundraising and accounting personnel concentrate on some other project, well the money is not going to just come rolling in on its own.

I suspect that if we just let our staff do the jobs they were hired to do, instead of making them always cover completely different responsibilities in a state of constant crisis as is our habit, that itself might help correct our financial problems.

To stop this slide into insolvency, the first thing the LNC has to do is look in the mirror and take responsibility for the things they themselves have done. They need to resolve the dues debate in an open and sincere manner. They need to accept their responsibility for managing the political and ideological aspects of the party as well as the administrative ones. They need to be clear, consistent and above all respectful in their treatment of our staff, and have appropriate expectations of them. They need to adopt a management philosophy that empowers, not instructs, staff to perform. Most of all, they need to remember that this party is the group that goes to their city council meetings and the candidates for County Commissioner and the good people who send us $25 because they like what we do, and not just the 17 people sitting at a conference table.

Yup, it should be an interesting meeting.


Anonymous GregD said...

Regarding staff: Maybe they should learn not to belittle the people who call them names. Robert Kraus may have apologized to the LNC for the term LP-DB-Anger list, but he never apologized to the database folks.

Daniel Cloud has published an editorial calling many donors do-nothing purists.

Mike Dixon won't respond to emails. I asked staff to explain why 73 of my members have had their expiration dates rolled back. They referred me to Dixon. I sent the email to my chair and asked him to get an answer from Dixon -- Dixon never replied.

Staff published the Iraq Exit Strategy without approval. It violated our core beliefs -- even it's supporters recognized it's shortcomings.

One year has gone by and the database doesn't work. Geoff Neale should be sued for the cost of that dog.

Don't be surprised that nobody wants to give these people money. Don't be surprised that the LNC and members despise everybody in the national office.

Jennifer Villarreal sent up a red flag. She was ignored.

George Getz sent up a red flag. He was ignored.

Why is anybody surprised?

All the reformers were praising Seehusen and the rest of staff -- they continue to praise them -- they seem to be unable to make the connection between staff incompetence and the financial disaster that is now obvious.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous phillies said...

Other major issues include the Dues for next year, currently set at $50/year, as opposed to proposals for zero, small, or the same dues, dumping the UMP, and of course the proposal to default on a fraction of the life memberships.

Then there is the ballot access funding report, where I note that the LNC has some computer files, but no financial records to create a trail.

I seem to recall someone saying that the LCN was supposed to review its strategic plan, so-called, this meeting.

There appear to be a significant number of 'state organizations' that should be derecognized for willful failure to advance the goals of the party.

Of course, there are also the people who think that the problem has something to do with the platform, for example, the failure to protect in the revised platform the Lagrange Points.

It would appear that at some point market competition is going to set in.

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Carl said...

George: the longterm problem does have something to do with the platform. As Eli Israel was fond of pointing out, more members would solve many of our problems. We could keep dues low, have headquarters in a prestigious location, pay an MIS/web/database staff member market wages, have 50 state ballot access, etc. and still have plenty left over for waste fraud and abuse, if desired.

Without a broad base of potential members, we will not get a large base of actual members (active and passive). Thus, the platform is the big underlying problem.

Given the current support level, I wish the LNC would focus on low cost efforts vs. blowing big wads of cash using pointy-hair logic. Where are the bumper stickers that say "Cut Taxes, Vote Libertarian"? How much would it cost to send every single renewed member a free bumper sticker? About 0.10/member last I checked. Even if only one in 10 members used their bumper sticker, the outreach cost would be worth it.

There are lots of cheap things we could do to improve outreach. Stephen Gordon has correctly pointed out the efficiencies of web outreach. I would like to see some master CDs created with quality outreach messages that members could lend to friends. Some DVDs and flash animations could also be nice. We could possibly get all this done using volunteers by having a contest.

We are not making sufficient use of our "passive" members. There are plenty of LP members out there who
do solo outreach to friends, family and neighbors without any connection to a local affiliate party. They could be given better tools.

But all the outreach in the world won't do much good if we reach out with a message that most voters actively dislike.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Susan Hogarth said...

Carl, those sound like excellent ideas. Why not try implementing one or more of them on a smaller scale - perhaps in your home county - and demonstrating how effective they are?

If we sit on our asses bellyaching about national, nothing will get done. Isn't centralization and top-down organization exactly the sort ofmodel Libertarians eschew?

12:05 AM  

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